Tesserae: A Memoir of Two Summers
Page Count: 236
Published: February 15, 2016
"The quiescence found in Tesserae: A Memoir of Two Summers has a staying effect upon the mind; this memoir lingers in the reader’s memory for some time."– Steven Berndt, Professor of American Literature, College of Southern Nevada
I sorely miss the sixties. I miss them because they are still within me; missing them is akin to loss. It was the time that I spent two indelible summers in Woodstock, at ages twenty-eight and twenty-nine. So powerful was the impact that deep into the seventies, with a wife and child, I would take off on an occasional Saturday and go up alone on the New York Thruway to Woodstock to spend the day. It was like visiting a cemetery, all the lost and lonely people. Woodstock was, and forever will be, a Proustian remembrance of things past for me, an addictive nostalgia and sentimentality, indeed, a sciatica of the spirit. When I practiced as a psychotherapist I had a client who was profoundly mourning her beloved husband. Each day she would go to his graveside and leave flowers and undoubtedly speak to his marker with all kinds of feelings. I think of her in that cemeteries are for the living and just depositories for the dead. Woodstock became a cemetery for me in the early to mid-seventies, a place I needed to come to in order to be reminded of the feelings, relationships, and human interactions I had experienced. It was a devotional feeling, like lighting a memorial candle for a dearly departed loved one. What is it to remember? To recall, retrieve, reflect, to go back for a moment, to feel a period of time long since gone. What is it to have memory in this organic memory box that we own? What purpose does the past serve in the present other than societal clichés about it? Why do we have associative feelings when we dredge up an early memory? What is memory’s purpose?
To say that this is Mathias B. Freese’s best work yet is a complete understatement. This may sound odd, because this work is a memoir in every sense of the word, but something about Freese’s stylistic choice made this book stick with me as a reader more than his previous work. I agree with Steven Berndt that this memoir “lingers in the reader’s memory for some time.” It is stories like that in which we gravitate to as readers and quietly wish would never end. As I cheered for Freese in one chapter, I found myself booing him in others. He is painstakingly honest and unapologetic at times, which makes his story hard to swallow. A highlight for me is the pop cultural references, especially in the chapter entitled “The Shape of Things to Come.” Overall, this is a beautiful, poetic tribute to the life that Freese lived for two summers. I highly recommend this memoir to anyone who has ever wondered if it is all worth it. I can tell that Freese truly has no regrets.
Interview with Mathias B. Freese:
What made you decide to write the beginning and end (almost)
chapters as interviews? Did you ever consider writing the entire
book in this format?
I thought it was a writerly device to have an intake about who I was
in 1968 and 1969 and who I am in 2015. Trained to do intakes as a
psychotherapist, it was a writer’s challenge for me to return to the
past and after all these decades try to assess who I was at the time.
And at the end of the book the process notes between therapist and
client revealed newer aspects of who I am, the mature man after
all his struggle. Pardon my grandiosity, but I thought that was
revealing way to get at my own character. I don’t think an entire
memoir with this kind of Socratic questioning would hold reader
interest, might become tiresome, I should think. I am a writer so I
try to use the arrows in my quiver. A writer should take risks and to
quote myself, fearlessness leads to authenticity in writing.
Memoir is such a delicate craft—a balance between the
personal and the universal. What do you consider to be the
most essential elements of a well-written memoir?
I have no idea what are the essential elements of a
well-written memoir. I am an autodidact. I don’t follow rules, I
break rules and I am often ignorant of the rules. I just sat down and
composed reflections about my life in what I think are hand-crafted
essays. Serendipitously, I see that I did manage to have a balance
between the personal and the universal. I have a philosophical bent
of mind and that is revealed in the memoir. Having practiced as a
psychotherapist, I think, always, of choices, stay grounded in
the present, work on feelings and always seek clarity in all things.
How did you become interested in memoir specifically, as
opposed to fiction?
This is my first effort at memoir, but in the last few years I have
focused on essays (see This Mobius Strip of Ifs, 2012). My writer’s
blog has focused on dense and tersely expressed little essays about
my life experiences. I looked at these essays and realized I had a
story to say about my personal travail. Thus, a memoir emerged.
Do you make any promises to yourself before you sit down to
write? Any deals?
Of course not. I am only interested in telling the truth of things to
the best I can. If you lie to yourself you are finished as a writer. I
try to be fearless in my writing and it has its cost. What that cost is
for me to cogitate about and not to share.
What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or
surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?
The writer is the last to know what the worth of his book is. A
therapist friend said it is remarkable in the sense how candid or
how in your face it is. I can’t write in any other way. I choose not
to. Readers' responses are a wondrous experience to have.
How would you compare this book to the others you have
written in the past?
In terms of fluidity and in expression I think it is my best work so
far. I think it is my best effort, although in 2015 I Truly Lament:
Working through the Holocaust had potent and powerful content to
bring forth through imagination and craft. The memoir is more
reflective, perhaps more aware, while Lament was incisive and
The unconscious, my agent, will allow it to emerge; it is my ally,
my friend and mentor. One day I sit down, one day something else
will come my way. My entire life as an author has been so